by Ellie Fuelling, Development & Marketing Assistant
“We haven’t seen our last Hemingway,” Josh Lehr said as he sat in the WBCA atrium, discussing the future of the WriteNow! contest. White Bear Center for the Arts’ WriteNow! contest, now in its 46th year, invites area high schoolers to submit pieces of writing to be judged, culminating in an annual awards ceremony at WBCA. After so many years, how can the contest remain relevant to students? As an English teacher at White Bear Lake Area High School North, Josh Lehr feels confident that writing still holds value for his students, in whatever new forms it may take.
Lehr has taught English for over a decade, and brings an enthusiasm for creative writing to WriteNow! Each year he encourages his students to submit their work, whether it be poetry, short stories, or creative nonfiction. Throughout his time as a teacher Lehr has witnessed the impact that the contest can have on students. Community recognition can be the spark that some students need to pursue writing. “Kids who were unaware they had these skills all of a sudden had an epiphany,” Lehr said. “The contest affords students the ability to see themselves as a writer.”
Not only do high schoolers see their own work in a different light, they are also exposed to a larger community of writers. This is something Lehr wants to build on in the coming years. He envisions mentorship opportunities between students and established writers, fostering connections between high schoolers and the broader community. Lehr also sees the art center as a central meeting space where students can write and collaborate. “The proximity is powerful,” Lehr said. Getting recognition from WBCA, a place close to their school, “is like an extension of the community placing value on what they’re already doing.”
As WBCA expands, the future of WriteNow! looks bright. With a collaborative spirit between the art center and teachers like Josh Lehr there are opportunities to increase participation and develop a community of writers. And the contest continues to inspire students, as Lehr has seen firsthand. “It shows students what’s inside of themselves in unique ways,” he said, “and makes them feel validated.”